CHICAGO — Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat who served in the Illinois state Senate for 10 years, has sued the state of Illinois, alleging his pay was illegally withheld during budget crises. However, an expert in Illinois constitutional law says his lawsuit has little chance of prevailing, particularly since the lack of funds was caused in part by legislation to cut lawmaker pay - legislation he, at the time, supported.
Noland’s lawsuit against Illinois Comptroller Susan Mendoza, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, demands the state pay him for days when he lost income due to furloughs, and to compensate him and other lawmakers for cost-of-living increases he said weren't reflected in lawmakers' paychecks.
Noland served in the state Senate from 2007-17, representing Elgin and other communities around the border of northern Kane and northwestern Cook counties.
"Why he didn’t file out in his own district, I don’t know," said Ann Lousin, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago who is recognized as an expert on Illinois constitutional law, having written a book on the subject.
Noland's lawsuit relies on language in the 1970 Illinois Constitution, Article IV, Section 11, regarding compensation and allowances, which states: “A member (of the General Assembly) shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”
“As best I can determine without looking at the complaint itself, I don’t think he has much chance of success. ... [Noland] was withholding his own pay as well as the others'," Lousin told the Cook County Record.
Lousin continued: “We have an enormous problem with slow paying because of our lack of a stream of payments coming into the state. There are a lot of day care centers and agencies that can’t function because the state is not paying them fast enough.”
Budgetary problems are nothing new, Lousin said
“The Illinois press is saying it’s taking about six months now for people to get paid," she said. "Regular state employees are being paid on time, however. Otherwise, you’d have a problem with, for example, the prison guards. You don’t want the prison guards suddenly announcing they are quitting."
“The legislators, I feel sorry for them, but we don’t have the money,” Lousin added.
Lousin emphasized the state's ongoing revenue woes and the difficulty of cutting expenses.
"People say we could cut expenses, but one of the biggest expenses is Medicaid and a federal judge has just said—and I think she’s absolutely right on the money—that [Medicaid] is a federal requirement," Lousin said. "We have a lot of people on Medicaid, and if you use federal money, you have to make the payments. They also put conditions on spending the money.
"We also have bonds. We borrow money and the bondholders have to be paid. If they default, in the future we’ll be paying terrible interest rates when we borrow money.”
Lousin understands that Illinois legislators themselves caused the issues regarding payments.
Lousin doesn’t think Noland will prevail in his suit against the Comptroller's office.
“The defense on the part of the state is going to be the Political Question Doctrine, which means that the court cannot decide the issue," she said. "The court leaves it to the legislature and the executive to work it out. The court is going to say we wash our hands of the whole thing."